Researchers predicting smaller Lake Erie algae bloom

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GIBRALTAR ISLAND (AP) -- Scientists are predicting the toxic blue-green algae bloom in Lake Erie's western basin will be mild this summer for the first time in years.

The News-Messenger of Fremont (http://ohne.ws/PpvFs6) reports that a team of researchers collaborated on a seasonal algae prediction and concluded that this year's algae will be about one-tenth of the amount of last year's, which was one of the worst on record.

It would be the first mild summer for the harmful blooms since 2007. Scientists say that because there's been less rain than usual, reducing the phosphorus runoff getting into the lake to feed algae growth.

"This is great news for us," said Jeff Reutter, director of the Ohio Sea Grant program and Ohio State University's Stone laboratory on Gibraltar Island. "It's been a long time since anyone's been able to provide any good news."

He expects the lack of harmful blue-green algae to help local tourism. Charter captains and many local businesses are heavily dependent on the lake's visitors.

The algae produce bacteria that can kill animals and sicken humans, and the blooms can litter beaches with rotting vegetation. Forecasters don't expect to see a large amount of algae this year even if rainfall picks up significantly this summer.

Scientists said Thursday the positive forecast doesn't mean the problem has been solved.

Excessive amounts of phosphorous from fertilizer runoff, sewage plants and other urban sources have caused explosive algae growth in recent years. Reutter said a wet spring in 2013 could bring the problem back in force.

State agencies have asked farmers to make voluntary changes in applying fertilizer to reduce phosphorous going into the lake.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanographers used satellite images and results of water sampling and monitoring tests by the Stone lab, University of Toledo and Heidelberg University researchers to develop the seasonal algae forecast. NOAA plans to continue partnering with the Ohio universities to monitor the lake blooms.